Garden update: Harvest rolling in

As I write this post, it is Monday evening, and we have a frost advisory in Denver tonight. Worse, I am enough tired from a weekend away, and jaded from staring at my powdery-mildew and aphid-infested garden, that I have not bothered to go dash sheets over the plants. Wish us all luck, readers.

However, in the meantime, ripe vegetables are finally arriving en masse. Today and this weekend, more than 7 lbs. of tomatoes have come ripe. A few more and we’ll be really ready to break out the new-to-us food mill for some sauce-making.

Our peppers have grown, beets are ready, scarlet runner beans have pods on them, and even the peanut plants are large and healthy beneath their carpet of tomato vines (will there be peanuts underneath the dirt? Stay tuned).

The potato plant hasn’t died back yet, so I’m not sure if there are tubers in there.

We’re having a small fall crop of strawberry plants, and the bushes have spread beautifully in the late summer.

And if the frost doesn’t arrive, one huge pumpkin just might manage to turn orange, three petite cantaloupes might finish their maturation process, and our butternut squash could provide a fall surprise harvest.

The Meyer lemons are turning yellow, and the plant actually has leaves in preparation for its migration south indoors for the winter. (I believe the house wall to which it’s adjacent will shelter it from any chill tonight.)

And best of all, if the aphids don’t finish them off, I believe we will be able to harvest at least a few Brussels sprouts this year.

The sprouts already are big enough to eat. I view this achievement as a major accomplishment, as it has taken us three or four years of trying to grow Brussels sprouts to get them this far! Cross your fingers and suck some aphids off the plant …

How does your garden grow? Have you thrown in the towel? Tried ladybugs this late in the year for the aphid problem? Just starting out Down Under?


Update on a stalled garden

July in Denver was arid and hot; August was cool and wet; and for the garden, September is like the August we never had. In terms of the garden, our plants went on hiatus and are just now getting back into the swing of things.

The Roma tomatoes are big, but just now beginning to turn red. This weekend, I’m hoping to get into the garden to peel away some leaves and expose the fruit to the sun in hopes we’ll get a good crop in before frosts hit in October.

All summer, we’ve had just one cantaloupe growing, and not very big, either. As you can see, these photos are a couple of weeks old, and by now we have that same cantaloupe starting to mature, and TEN more cantaloupes ranging in size from 2 inches to 4 inches. Want to place any bets on how many will ripen?

Somehow, the volunteer cucumbers (from last year’s plants, which I think were hybrids) are making normal cucumber fruit (top), and the seeds I planted and nurtured are making mutants (bottom). Same seeds as last year. I thought hybrids couldn’t grow fruit, but that’s not entirely correct. Nevertheless, last year’s babies made the best babies this year.

Below is our first pumpkin — in late August! Again, this pumpkin is bigger two weeks later … but after the whole summer growing, our vine has just two fruit on it, and they’re not turning orange yet.

Our main garden bed is going completely crazy. Even if you can’t pick out the separate plants, you’re seeing okra, Brussels sprouts, Roma tomato, peanuts and a renegade yellow pear tomato that volunteered, but has not matured a single fruit this year. No wonder we hated those plants last year!

Other plants are stunted, too. The butternut squash that last year yielded 15 enormous fruit? This year, the same number of vines (two) are almost as long as last year, but one fruit fell off while it was immature, two are growing enormous and ripening (but one is cracked, I think from the erratic moisture), and about six more are finally growing … time will tell how big they get before it freezes.

Our average first frost here is something like Oct. 15, so if these plants step on it, we might see some good results yet. On the other hand, for whatever reason, our hearts just haven’t been in the garden this year (could it have been the searing July temperatures that kept me inside all month?), and perhaps the plants are feeling our lack of energy.

How does your garden grow? Business as usual, or funky veggies out there?

Tour our garden

Summer is coming to an end, although the gardening season is just reaching its prime in Colorado. If we are lucky, we’ll have a late frost, and the garden can carry on most of the way through October.

I’ve written so much about our garden here that I thought it might be fun to have a shot of the whole thing. You can glance at the photo here, and if you click on “all sizes” (above the photo), you should be able to see a larger size and more easily read the captions explaining what’s what.

In trying to capture an image, I realized just how scattered our garden is. These shots and notes don’t even touch on the two “extra” strawberry plants tucked into a back bed, the pumpkin and cantaloupe in the front yard, and the barrels out front with two more Roma plants. They don’t show the squash and berries at one side of our yard, or the Roma snuggled up next to the butterfly bush. But you’ll get the general idea.

If you’ve presented a garden tour on your own blog or photostream, add a link below — we’ll have our own garden tour. You bring the lemonade, I’ll bring the floppy hats.

Don’t give up on squash for lack of pollinators

Take a look at your garden. If you’re growing members of the squash family, are the fruit growing? (That link will give you more information about the squash family — but in short, it includes winter squash, summer squash, melons, cucumbers and pumpkins.)

If not, you might need to hand pollinate.

Look closely at the vines. You’ll see flowers, right?

Look again. Some of the flowers grow on a long stem. These are the male flowers. They show up first, chivalrously opening the door to summer growth for the ladies.

A few days or weeks after the fellows arrive, the female flowers start to grow. These are distinguished by a small fruit that grows on the stem between the main vine and the flower. It looks just like what it will become — a butternut, or a cucumber, or a pumpkin — but small and green.

If your female flowers open, wither, and then the fruit turns yellow and falls off, your flowers aren’t being pollinated.

But don’t shrug in despair — you can pollinate the blossoms yourself.

This Web page provides a detailed overview of how to pollinate by hand to ensure the seeds remain pure (for instance, that pumpkin pollen doesn’t get into your butternut flower).

If all you want is for some fruit to grow this year, you can simplify the process.

  • Work early in the morning, before 10 a.m.
  • Choose a male flower with a nice juicy stamen. Pick a fresh flower that isn’t drying up in the middle. If the blossom is yellow and firm, you’re in good shape.
  • Carefully pluck the flower off the stem. Tear away the petals, leaving the center intact.
  • Brush the stamen over the pistil (center part, even more juicy) of a female flower. One male flower will be enough for several female flowers.
  • Toss the flower in the compost and cross your fingers.

The whole process will just take a few moments, and with luck, you’ll assure yourself of a good healthy crop.

If your flowers are falling off the vine but bees are present, it’s possible it’s just too hot or your plants are otherwise stressed.

Hand pollination is critical for plants being grown under row cover, too — insects can’t get to their blooms.

Good luck. Go forth and pollinate.

A furry pest in the garden

I’m starting to think it might not have been the birds that ate our strawberries.

Let’s backtrack.

Perhaps you have heard of our family pet, Schnauzer Cheap.

We’ll call him SC.

SC loves to eat. The highlights of his day are breakfast and dinner. He also loves fruits and vegetables. He happily munches anything we drop on the floor: an occasional almond, a piece of carrot, bell pepper, a bit of apple, onion, cucumber, corn … loves it.

In fact, he gets almost as excited when he smells that we are peeling a carrot as when we are preparing meat. Sometimes we give him carrots for training treats, and he will eagerly perform his repertoire for a bite of veggie.

So, the other night, I was knitting on the couch downstairs. SC came thundering down the stairs. He stopped in front of me and looked at me proudly.

With a mouthful of green beans, freshly plucked out of our garden, dangling from the sides of his muzzle.

It was pretty funny. SC and I can communicate without words, and I’m pretty sure he was saying, “Look, ma — I’m doing my part to eat local! 100-foot diet and all!”

But of course, I was thinking, “My haricots verts! I didn’t even eat any yet!”

So, I took SC up and scolded him, took his beans away, and first thing in the morning we redecorated the garden to keep him out.

Also at that time, Mr. Cheap confessed that he caught SC earlier this year, with part of a pea vine dangling from his furry black lips. Thus, the lack of pea harvest just might be explained. Yeah, right: The “birds” ate the baby pea plants. The birds that SC obsessively chases out of our yard. Inspector Poirot, I’m not.

Some people have elk, we have an omnivorous schnauzer.

Moving into jungle mode – garden update

Things are getting a little crazy in the garden.

I figured after the last few weeks of beautiful close-ups, I’d show you the ugly (and growing) truth. We tried so hard to space things well and leave plenty of room this year.

Really, we did!

But here you can see the Brussels sprouts in front (still with some elbow room), the green bean patch to the left, half covered with flowers and half covered with beans, and the Juliet tomato in the back taking over the territory. (Longtime readers will remember that last year’s Juliet tomato developed more than 100 feet of vines.) In addition to a poor shot of the wall and utility box, the compost bin, which is about waist high, can give you a sense of the scale.

That plant to the right, creeping in front of the compost bin? At first I thought it was a cucumber. In fact I even saw a baby cucumber on the plant, which is what gave me that impression. But now look at the size of those leaves. I think it’s a stowaway butternut squash. Perhaps there’s a cucumber plant hidden beneath it just to throw me off track.

To the left of the beans there is a novelty in our garden: a little path covered with a couple of books of hay. This path is a wonderful innovation, which give me space to pick beans yesterday.

Here is the other half of that bed. At the far left are the okra plants. I think they’re the only plant that have been enjoying our three weeks of 90-plus degree temperatures.

At the right side of this picture, beside the path, are five peanut plants. They are growing pretty well and have such beautiful green color.

And in the middle? That’s a tomato plant. It’s taking over almost as much as the Juliet is. The only difference? This particular tomato is a Roma. It’s supposed to be a determinate variety, which doesn’t grow very large. It doesn’t understand destiny, however, and has designs on taking over this bed.

Other than that, the story of the week is heat stress. This picture shows two sad, wilted little baby butternut squash. Most of the newly formed squash have not stayed on the vine long enough to open their flowers. That means no pollination, and of course, no squash. We have two nice hearty squash set on the vines, and we’re waiting to see what will happen this week, when the weather is forecast to be much more favorable. We also have one pumpkin set on our vine in the front yard, and we’re waiting on that too.

Big beets, baby beans – Garden growth

Things are growing beautifully in our garden, despite a heat wave that has us thisclose to breaking the record. (Denver’s record is 15 days of highs over 90 degrees. Barring unforeseen cooling, we’ll tie the record on Wednesday, break it on Thursday and blow it out of the water sometime over the next few weeks.) Even though I am a competitive person, this information is little consolation when it’s been too hot to stand on my lawn barefoot without my feet feeling like they are burning. But this big beet doesn’t care.

We’ve also got a lot of babies sprouting green wings in the garden.

The bush green beans have turned from little white flowers into stringy, fuzzy baby beans. Mr. Cheap has taken a lesson from their flourishing: “Next year, a bigger bean patch!”

Our first butternut squash is getting bigger — almost as big as its blossom this morning. That flower was in full bloom yesterday. The plant’s blossoms are so big and bright that when I peeked inside early today, each bloom held a bee that appeared to be dozing.

The cucumbers are growing at a staggered pace. We have cukes in three places. Next to the erstwhile pea trellis we have stair-step cucumbers — the one farthest west is about 8″ tall and growing flowers. The one fartheast east (shaded by dill and tomatoes) is about 4″ tall and still working. The volunteer next to last year’s cuke patch (growing amid stones) is lanky and not producing. Then we have one wonder next to the compost bin. It is half buried by the Juliet tomato and the weeds, but its leaves are dinner-plate-sized and it is sprouting little cukes like this one (about 1.5″ long):

Our first BIG tomato is turning red (we’ve already harvested dozens of cherry tomatoes and two Juliet paste tomatoes, with more ripening as I type). This must be a function of the hot hot heat, because I don’t remember every harvesting so many tomatoes so early:

And our potato is turning … done? Dead? I cautioned you that the potatoes may be making me eat my words:

Please wish my potato vitality, and wish us fortitude to survive the dog-tired, hot-dog dog days of summer. Happy gardening to you.